Destroying Unity Is the First Step

I watched this clip the other day, and it made me ponder how much our culture and our media have changed in just a generation.

 

The message here is obvious.  The Team that Dare Not Speak its Name used to be something that united Washington across racial and political lines, which was no easy feat.  Not only that, but also note that the media didn’t reflexively foment division.  Instead, in the simpler time of 1983, CBS News cheerfully celebrates the fact that the Redskins’ championship pleased Washingtonians of all stripes.

Continue reading

Posted in Commentary, General Culture and News, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Washington Examiner Piece on Digital Media and Censorship

I’m shamelessly using this post to promote a piece I wrote for the Washington Examiner.  This is a long-form magazine essay that updates and greatly expands some of the themes that I first discussed in this post from a couple of months back.

The piece discusses the recent rash of edits and deletions of the digital versions of art, the value of free speech and expression, and the cultural forces that seem to applaud the removal of “problematic” art from public view—sometimes including the creators of that very same art.

The article will be behind a paywall for most of you, but, if you’re interested, I hope you’ll access it and give it a read.  Here’s the link:

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/buy-physical-media

Posted in Commentary, General Culture and News, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Untimely Movie Review: Risky Business

Risky Business is a weird movie.

It gets a lot of things right, but, even within the context of 80s teenage-themed films, I don’t think it holds up particularly well.  It’s not as entertaining as the John Hughes canon.  It’s not as compelling as Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  I’m not even sure it’s the best movie about high school that Tom Cruise made in 1983!

Ok, maybe it is a lot sharper than All the Right Moves.  Either way, it’s certainly fair to say that Risky Business is the movie that made Tom Cruise a huge star, and it’s rightly remembered as a milestone in that regard.

But the premise of the film is ridiculous.

Continue reading

Posted in Commentary, Movies, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

30 Facts for Live Aid’s 30th Anniversary

Yesterday was the 35th anniversary of Live Aid. I thought I would reblog this piece I wrote five years ago, with 30 facts about Live Aid on the occasion of its 30th anniversary.

The Axis of Ego

Even though I was only seven years old, I could sense that Live Aid was important.

LiveAidCrowdWembleyThirty years ago today, the biggest musical acts in the world performed as part of a single, massive event, unprecedented in scope.  Everyone from Madonna to the Beach Boys to the Pretenders to Paul McCartney helped put on the biggest concert in the history of the planet, before or since.

The strange thing is that I realized just a few days ago that the 30th anniversary was coming up.  The relative lack of fanfare struck me as odd.  Rather than trying to write a comprehensive history about the event, or even an analysis of the concert itself, I thought I would string together 30 facts about Live Aid to commemorate the occasion.

1. Live Aid began as an offshoot of Band Aid, a group of mostly-UK artists who recorded a one-off charity single, “Do They…

View original post 2,675 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Untimely Movie Review: Chariots of Fire

Watching a Best Picture winner typically leaves me with one of two reactions.  Either, “I completely understand why this won Best Picture,” or “This is a decent / interesting movie, but the field must have been weak that year.”

Chariots of Fire falls into the latter category.

Again, this is not to say it’s a bad film.  Not at all.  It’s good.  But the most memorable thing about it to this day is its synth-driven, wildly anachronistic, Vangelis-crafted score.

Starring a bunch of vaguely familiar faces whose names you probably don’t know, aside from a supporting turn from Ian Holm as trainer Sam Mussabini, and a bit part played by Sir John Gielgud, the film follows a group of British track athletes on their journey to the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris.

The two primary athletes are Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) and Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson).  The plot focuses on various aspects of their on-track careers, but also on the role religion played in their lives.  Although culturally very English, Abrahams was a Jew who faced anti-Semitism.  Meanwhile, Liddell was a devout Christian whose faith was inextricably linked with his motivation for competing.

In the case of Abrahams, the anti-Semitism he experiences was actually very mild by the standards of a century ago.  It’s largely limited to some moderately offensive comments, the most damning of which aren’t said in his presence.  While that’s certainly not good, as anti-Semitism goes, it provided only a minor obstacle—which makes it something of an odd focal point.

In other words, if someone had tried to keep him from competing in the games due to his faith, that would have seemed like a more relevant element of the story.  As it is, we mostly hear comments along the lines of someone joking (not even to his face) that he probably won’t be in the university choir.

Perhaps I’m just jaded by the ham-handed presentation of bigotry we get in movies today, but the level of anti-Semitism depicted in Chariots of Fire is mostly almost quaint.

Liddell’s faith is much more pertinent to the story, as one plot point is based on the real-life refusal of Liddell to run on Sunday.  In the movie, that prevents him from running in the 100-meter qualifying heat, but the test of his faith under pressure from government officials is the primary dilemma of the second half of the film.

One thing that bumped me during this movie is how unathletic some of these guys look when they compete.  In particular, Ian Charleson’s racing style is bizarre—coming down the stretch, he starts flailing his arms like a drowning man struggling to get to shore.  Granted, running techniques weren’t as advanced in the 1920s (witness the runners having to dig their own footholds prior to racing), but it’s hard to take Charleson seriously as  a world-class sprinter when he looks like he’s going to topple over during the final 10-20 yards of every race.

Overall, Chariots of Fire is a perfectly fine, semi-historically-accurate presentation of a moderately interesting story about the 1924 British Olympic Team.  Yet, like, say, The King’s Speech, I find myself somewhat surprised that it won Best Picture.

Its competition that year in the Best Picture category included Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I can say definitively that Raiders of the Lost Ark is a better all-around movie than Chariots of Fire.  It just isn’t as safe of one.

Speaking of the Academy Awards, John Gielgud coincidentally won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar that same night, but not for this film.  Instead, it was his hilarious, deadpan performance as Hudson in Arthur that earned him the honor.

Anyway, as for Chariots of Fire, it’s perfectly acceptable entertainment, with some nice touches in terms of sets and costumes that make the historical races seem more real.  However, it’s not even one of the 20 best films I’ve seen so far in the Warner Bros. 50 Movie Collection.

Posted in Commentary, Movies, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Untimely Movie Review: The Shining

The genius of Stanley Kubrick is readily apparent in the opening “segment” of The Shining, in which Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) painstakingly drives to, arrives at, and participates in an almost-real-time job interview.

The exquisitely slow burn takes the audience through an experience so familiar that it is almost mundane, up until the point where Mr. Ullman asks whether Jack knows about the “tragedy of 1970.”

Between this and “Tony,” Danny Torrance’s imaginary friend, it doesn’t take long for the viewer to understand that something incredibly sinister is at work.  But it is the path that Kubrick uses to get there that is so fascinating.

The Shining incorporates a few pieces we’ve seen before in the Warner Brothers 50 Film Collection.  Namely, Kubrick (2001 and A Clockwork Orange), Nicholson (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), and Scatman Crothers (also Cuckoo’s Nest).  All three work superbly.

So, too, does Shelley Duvall, as Jack’s harrowed wife who was already close to a breakdown even before her husband began chasing her around with an axe.

Continue reading

Posted in Commentary, Movies, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Father’s Day (Redux 2020)

It was.

It’s Father’s Day again, and continuing with what is now an annual tradition, I’m taking this opportunity to share a Father’s-Day-related storytelling podcast I recorded back in 2016.

Happy Father’s Day.

Posted in Podcasts, Sports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Halfway Home

I purchased the Warner Brothers 90th Anniversary blu-ray Collection over six years ago.  It took me quite a while, but, as I’ve been on a pandemic-fueled review flurry of late, I’ve finally been able to finish the first half of the collection.

This obviously means that I’ve reviewed 25 of the 50 films, which takes us up through the end of the 1970s.  Here’s the complete list, with links to all of the completed reviews (and the list of the movies yet to come).

The films that won Best Picture are in bold.

Grand Hotel (1932)
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Gone with The Wind (1939)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Mrs. Miniver (1942)
Casablanca (1943)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
An American in Paris (1951)
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Gigi (1958)
North By Northwest (1959)
Ben-Hur (1959)
How the West Was Won (1962)
Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Bullitt (1968)
Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)
Dirty Harry (1971)
A Clockwork Orange (1972)
The Exorcist (1973)
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Superman: The Movie (1978)
The Shining (1980)
Chariots of Fire (1981)
Risky Business (1983)
Amadeus (1984)
The Color Purple (1985)
Lethal Weapon (1987)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
Goodfellas (1990)
Unforgiven (1992)
The Bodyguard (1992)
Natural Born Killers (Director’s Cut) (1994)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
The Matrix (1999)
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Million Dollar Baby (2005)
The Departed (2006)
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Blind Side (2009)
The Hangover (2009)
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Inception (2010)

There’s still a good mix of movies I haven’t seen and ones that I have seen (and like) coming up.  At the rate I’m going, I see no reason why I can’t finish the rest of these within a year.  Perhaps sooner.

The biggest obstacle at this point is the fact that I’m also watching a lot of other movies.  For example, I picked up The Pink Panther Collection, along with The Thing (I had it on DVD but not blu-ray), Richard Jewell, Straight Outta ComptonSolo (upgraded to 4k), Parasite, and A Fish Called Wanda.

Hey, I had to use that Trump stimulus money somehow.

But I’m watching three to seven movies a week at this point, so I should be able to keep up my pace.  I’ll be back soon with more untimely reviews!

Posted in Commentary, Movies, Reviews, Site Stuff | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Untimely Movie Review: Superman

Approaching the turn in the Warner Brothers 50 Film Collection, I encounter a familiar face: Superman.

I’m too young to have seen the 1978 movie in a theater, but I’m the perfect age to have experienced the film’s frequent showing as a network Movie of the Week, and, later, as a cable channel staple.

At least until 1989’s Batman, this movie was the definitive superhero film.  Prior to Superman, comic-book heroes had been relegated to camp or b-movie fodder.  Superman made it clear that this genre could be both creatively successful and commercially viable—to say the least.  Superman made over $300,000,000 at the box office, including international receipts, which is close to  $1.2 billion in current-day dollars—comparable to the modern MCU blockbusters.

I’ve always loved the fact that they begin the movie with a 4:3, black-and-white nod to Superman’s 1930s origins.  That was a nice touch.  And, as the (incredibly lengthy!) opening credits begin, I, like a lot of people my age, have an almost visceral reaction to that John Williams theme.  And it’s worth mentioning that Williams’ music is almost as big a star in this movie as Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, or Marlon Brando.

Speaking of Brando, two quick points: 1. The collection includes the extended version, so this is the two-and-a-half-hour edition of the film, complete with extra Brando.  2. I always forget that the story and original screenplay for this movie came from the mind of Mario Puzo!

Anyway, the first portion of the film is very practical-effects-heavy.  It not only looks primitive by modern standards, but even against the lofty bar set by Star Wars a year earlier.  It isn’t awful or anything, but, for example, it’s easy to tell the scale models are models, and certain other telltale signs of movie-making take the viewer out of the immersive experience.

Continue reading

Posted in Commentary, Movies, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Buy Physical Media

A generous helping of shutdown-induced free time has allowed me to catch up on my ridiculous backlog of movies on disc.  That’s why it’s no coincidence that the last dozen or so posts on this formerly eclectic blog are movie reviews.

Note “movies on disc.”  I think it’s safe to say that I don’t personally know anyone who owns as many movies as I do in a physical form.  I also own a healthy number of television shows on disc, as well as myriad sports-related selections.  In all, I would estimate that I have something like 2,000 discs worth of content, all of which I keep in simple albums for the sake of efficient storage, allowing all of this material to occupy only two small shelves on a bookcase in my den.

Why do I own so many discs in an era in which streaming is now the preferred format?

Several reasons.  First, audio and video quality is typically better.  A blu-ray disc can hold enough data to produce higher video quality than what you’ll normally get on a streaming service, as well as uncompressed audio.

Secondly, it’s never been a better time to be a physical media fan.  With streaming services exploding in popularity, discs are in decline.  Demand is lower, especially after the initial wave of fans buy the produce the first month the movie is out, so prices drop quickly.  

Disney aside, even new-release discs drop below $20 pretty quickly.  Even better, popular titles from yesteryear often get bundled together at incredible discounts.  To name just one example, The Jack Ryan Collection, which includes five Tom Clancy blockbusters, can be had for $19.99 on Amazon right now.

I’m fairly indifferent to those movies, but, at $4.00 each, I’m considering making a purchase.

Those are the pragmatic reasons I buy physical media.  But there’s a third, increasingly important one. Continue reading

Posted in Commentary, Movies, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments